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tv   Lectures in History Power in Antebellum Slave Societies  CSPAN  September 2, 2020 2:02pm-3:04pm EDT

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summer cottage and stories of the kennedys, clintons and obamas in martha's vineyard. monday night, american history tv and "washington journal" look back at the events that led to the bombing and their legacy with authors. exploring the american story, watch american history tv this labor day weekend on c-span3. now, on american history tv on c-span3, university of maryland preview christopher bonner teaches a class about the concept of power. he discusses how the invention of the cotton gin resulted in the expansion of slavery. >> all right. i want to go ahead and get into it. good morning, folks.
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it's good to see you all here today. what we're going to do is think through some big questions about power dynamics in american slave societies today. so part of this is like a building on what we talked about last thursday. last thursday we talked about gabriel's conspiracy and we talked about the ways gabriel's story reflects the complexity of slavery. slavery was a relationship between an individuals, a person owned another person. it was complex. with gabriel, we saw some of the ways an enslaved person could enjoy freedom inside their bondage. today what we're going to do is talk through some of the practices of power and our big questions for today are broadly about this, right? we'll come back to these questions at the end of class. questions about the ways that labor influenced the lives of
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enslaved people in the south and the tools that were available to slave people and slave owners in struggles overpower. slave owners used their power to move massive numbers of enslaved people into cotton-producing territories. through physical force, they enslaved people to work and they made massive amounts of money based on the violent extraction of neighborhood. enslaved people worked and lived together and they cultivated their own kinds of power through their relationships. slaves did a number of things that enabled them to exercise a degree of control in their own lives. we're going to talk about both of these sides of this story here, the tools, the techniques of slave owner power and we'll talk about the tools and techniques of power that were practiced by enslaved people. before we get into the particular questions about power that we're thinking about today, i want to talk about a clip from the movie "12 years a slave."
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i like this film and i like it as teaching tool as well. one of the things i like about it is it -- that might make it a little better. it makes it possible to really kind of sit down and see the landscape, see the environment of the slave-holding south. how many of you guys have seen it? the story is about -- the story is a story of this guy who was free in the northern states and was tricked and kidnapped into slavery and spent 12 years in bondage. and the film is based on his narrative. the scene i'm going to show is about two minutes and it's -- it takes place during a funeral. the scene is just after solomon and other people have watched a fellow enslaved man collapse and die while working in the fields. and so i want to show this and i want to think a little bit together about what we see here.
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watch this and think about how we might use it to understand solomon and how we might use it to understand human experiences of slavery and then we'll build from there. >> went down to the river, jordan, where john baptized three. ♪ i say roll ♪ my soul arrives ♪ some say john was a baptist ♪ some say john was a jew ♪ but i say john was a preacher because my bible says so too ♪ ♪ i say roll roll ♪ my soul arise for the year
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♪ roll roll ♪ my soul arise in heaven lord the year that jordan rolls ♪ ♪ roll jordan roll ♪ my soul arrives in heaven lord the year that jordan roll ♪ ♪ roll jordan roll ♪ my soul arrives in heaven lord for the year when jordan rolls ♪ ♪ roll jordan roll ♪ roll jordan roll ♪ my soul arrives in heaven lord for the year when jordan rolls ♪ ♪ roll jordan roll ♪ roll jordan roll ♪ my soul arrives in heaven lord
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for the year when jordan rolls ♪ >> all right. so if we look at this, if we think about what we're seeing here, what might this clip suggest to us about the experience of slavey? how might we use this to understand what slavery was like for people who were held in bondage? what do we think? >> you mentioned earlier about how when someone passes away, like, they're kind of expected to move on and stuff. so you can see here, you can tell he was obviously really update, but then everyone -- it was more of a celebration, their funeral. you saw him starting to sing with them at the end, realizing that he has to move on and has to get over what just happened. >> you can get a sense of maybe a collective emotional experience but suggesting there's evidence of an
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individual emotional experience that solomon is feeling particular things. what is happening about -- what might this clip be saying about solomon? what's happening with him in this clip? laura? >> it looks like he's starting to accept his fate of the situation because he was obviously a freed man and now he's not anymore. it's showing his transition from you know, maybe this is what my life is going to be going forward. >> so we can think -- the reality is, we know solomon was enslaved for 12 years and liberated. in this moment he doesn't know that. maybe part of what you're seeing is his grappling with that, the feeling of the -- the possibility that slavery might be a permanent status for him. other thoughts on how we might think about this transformation? what's happening with solomon in
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this moment? is he resigning himself to the fact he might be a slave for life? how else might we think about it? would you say he feels sad -- >> i feel like he's having a hard time accepting the fact this everyone sees this as being normal. everyone else doesn't see they have animation in his faces, but he seems like he's going through all of these emotions. it seems like he's trying to not accept it. he doesn't want this to be his life. >> there's a change in his face, right, but there's a struggle, i think you can see. that what's happening here, whatever solomon might be feeling at the end of this clip, it's a feeling that he comes to gradually and as a part of a difficult process. it's not easy for him to feel what it is that he's feeling in this moment, right? so i think that there's some important things that you guys have pointed to here that i want to build on a little bit, right?
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on a fundamental level, one of the things we see here is that slavery could be a transformative experience. enslavement could shape a person's life. connections with other people, right, with other enslaved people, these things could shape the ways they lived and thought about themselves and thought on a day-to-day basis. one of the things i think is interesting about this scene is that he does seem to be thinking of himself gradually as a part of this community of enslaved people. and so one way we can read that is what laura is saying, there's a way that solomon seems to be identifying himself as a slave. in this moment he knows that that is his status, right? there are other ways we can think about what that might mean. northup is at a funeral. and funerals were celebrations of life, right? northup is joining in a
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community that is celebrating this guy, that is singing a song that doesn't sound particularly sad. there are ways to see that solomon is changing how he sees himself both in relationship to the institution of slavery and in relation to other enslaved people. the song they're singing, it has a hymn that has its origins in communities of enslaved people. and so the jordan river is the last task, crossing the river is the last struggle that people would have to endure before they achieve the kind of spiritual liberation. that's a way of thinking about what the participation in this singing might mean to solomon. it's not a participation in just an act of grieving, but in a particular act of grieving, an act of grieving that is designed to represent death as a triumph
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over the bondage of slavery in the south. so solomon northup's story, it represents the ways a person's life could be changed by enslavement. the work of cultivating cotton had profound affects on the daily lives of northup and the people who were there and other people who were forced to cultivate cotton. cotton grew really well in the long and hot summers of the deep south. the fact that the summers were long and hot, though, also was part of what made slavey so difficult in these places, right? slaves would plant cotton seeds in the spring and then they would spend summers hoeing and work to keep down the seeds and grasses that popped up between
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the plants. in late august and into the fall, they would pick the cotton. i want to reemphasize how important the cotton gin was for transforming the economy of the united states. the gin separated the seeds out of cotton fibers. before this machine existed, enslaved people were forced to do this by hand. it was a slow process and it's described as a production bottleneck. it limited the amount of cotton that could be cultivated in any one year. eli whitney's cotton gin made it possible for enslaved people to clean more cotton. slave owners, because they wanted to maximum their profits, they wanted to force enslaved people to produce more cotton for the market. so after the invention of the cotton gin, more people were forced to produce more cotton to satisfy slave owners' demands. and part of what we can see then is that technology is one of the tools that slave owners used to
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exert power over enslaved people. picking cotton was a particularly difficult process because cotton is a stubborn crop. you're looking at a boll. when it's ripe, it blooms, it opens up and raw white cotton fibers are exposed. you can kind of see it here, the boll doesn't always open all the way. and the job of a person who is picking this crop is to pull out as much of the fiber as they can to avoid pulling out stems and other kinds of -- pieces of the plant or the leaves, but also to avoid cutting themselves. the leaves are sharp. this is like a profoundly difficult task and leads to a lot of injuries.
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so the cotton gin encouraged more slave owners to acquire more slaves and compel them to do this difficult work. slave owners relied on constant supervision and regular violence to compel enslaved labor. so, we're going to look at a couple of pieces of northup's narrative and i'm going to highlight things that he shows us, some things that reveals about the ways -- the work of the plantation took place. so in his narrative, he described some of the order, some of the structures of power on a cotton plantation. the landscape, one of the things he points out, the landscape was arranged into rows. so there were neat, orderly ways of laying out a cotton field. that made it easy for overseers
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or slave drivers, it made it easy for them to see the progress of enslaved people. if everybody is lined up, you can see how far everyone is moving. so the positioning of the overseer is one of the things that northup highlights here. an overseer is up on horse back. you can imagine somebody standing 10 feet tall and how much they could see as opposed to somebody who is 5'5", 6 feet tall. overseers would watch over the work of enslaved people. and overseers would use the whip to continue to compel enslaved people to do this work. he writes that the lashes is constantly moving. all day long, people are being whipped. the sound of the slashes, like a constant background noise for plantation labor. so the labor of cotton shaped enslaved people's lives and the crop, cotton reshaped the united
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states. so cotton changed the nation's geography and it changed the nation's economy. we looked at this slide in other contexts and i pointed out the early state hood of louisiana, 1812, mississippi, and alabama, right? this movement of people into what's now the deep south, what was then called the old southwest. we can see here, the movement of the nation into these spaces. when we look at these maps, we can think about other aspects of what's actually happening when these states are being created. so these maps connect the movement of people to the movement or the expansion of cotton production. so you can see two big things here, the top map is 1820, the bottom map is 1840. and each dot represents 22000 bails of cotton.
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two basic things, there are a lot more dots than they were in 1820. and the other thing you can see is the shift in where that production was happening. it was being concentrated around the mississippi river. the production of cotton was moving into new spaces, south and west as the 19th century progressed. so the people and the work of cotton moved south and west as the 19th century progressed. the map is representing cotton bails, where these things were being produced. but implicit in this map are the people who are forced to do the labor of producing cotton. each of these dots represents hundreds or thousands of enslaved people moved into the south and into the west to produce this cotton. the map is a representation not only of the movement of people
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across the country, the movement of cotton production, but also the movement of enslavement, right? the transformation of the geography of slavery. i mentioned a few weeks back when we were talking about the late colonial period, i mentioned that the slave population in north america by the late 1700s was experiencing a natural increase. 1808 the u.s. banded the atlantic slave trade. there were not new enslaved people being brought into the country. after that, the population continued to grow. in 1810, there were about 1.1 million slaves in the u.s. in 1830, there were about 2 million slaves in the u.s. and in 1840, there were
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2.5 million. so in the early 1800s, massive numbers of these people were moved south and west and what historians have come to describe as the second middle passage. this is a reference to the main middle passage which we've talked about, the transfer of people across the atlantic ocean in the bottoms of slave ships. 12 million people extracted from africa and transported to the americas. the second middle passage describes this massive movement of enslaved people into cotton-producing territory. between 1800 and 1860, an estimated 1 million people were moved into these territories. this is a contemporary image that is a representation of what was called a coffle.
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it's basically the term that was used for a group of enslaved people chained together, forced to walk over long distance. this is a coffle that was being moved from virginia to tennessee. from the old tobacco-producing regions of the country, into newer spaces that were being intended for cultivating cotton. a an enslaved man dwieescribed wh it was like to be part of a coffle. i think this image is useful, but this image actually i think gives us more texture to see what it would have actually been like, right? ball wrote this about being in a coffle. the women were tied together with a rope which was tied
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around the neck of each. for the men, a strong iron color was closely fitted by means of a padlock around our necks. a chain of iron was passed through the hasp of each padlock. you can get a better sense of the forced connection of people in this image. you can see that these two guys are chained together at the wrist and that this guy on the front right is chained by the ankle to people behind him. this is on an obvious level awful, people being bound together and being forced to walk long distances to a new life and a different kind of enslavement. but there are little things that i think people might not think about when you consider how difficult the situation would be. so people are forced to walk all day and at night they're forced to try to sleep. but there wasn't enough slack in the rope or chains to allow them
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to lie down. people were bound together in pairs. when one person needed to go to the bathroom, they had to stay bound to the person to whom they were chained. and so the concept of privacy is kind of eradicated in some ways by the bonds of ahv8ñ coffle. so the second middle passage moves people in substantial numbers from the states of the upper south and of the east coast, maryland, virginia, north carolina, delaware, a bit as well, into the deep south. into the cotton-producing regions, mississippi, louisiana, alabama, increasing texas as well, right? one of the interesting things and really one of the terrifies prospects to think about, a lot of these people were moved over land but a number were transported over sea. you can imagine people being boarded into a ship, people who had heard stories from ancestors
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about the middle passage and then being put into a ship and not knowing what was going to happen to them, not knowing what kind of experience they might have on that ship as it would sail likely into a place like new orleans. slave traders, most of the people who were sold in the second middle passage were sold from states like maryland and virginia. slave traders would buy people and lead them on a trek or lead them on an ocean voyage with the goal of selling them to cotton planters. so the second middle passage i think allows us to see some of the human realities of the growth of the system of slavey. so there's an institution that is growing and an institution that is expanding but we have to think about the marching of the people, right? the forced movement of individuals as slavery moved and
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expanded. the expansion of slavey was the movement of people. so this was another kind of power that slave owners exercised as well, right? slave owners had the power to move people, to force them to do work in other places. so as cotton is changing the geography of the united states, it was changing the nation's economy. slave trading was part of this. slave trading was a big business in the 19th century. there were slave-trading firms in baltimore, richmond and here you see one in alex andrea. it's been photographed by union troops during the civil war. slave-trading firms had connections with slave traders in places like new orleans and mobile, alabama. and so the south was being linked together by the business of trading slaves, of moving enslaved people.
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and the business of slave-trading -- this is an interior shot of this slave market, especially, a jail, where people would be held waiting for sale in alexandria. the business of slave trading was part of a larger set of economic relationships and i just wanted to highlight here on this money from alabama how important slavery and cotton production were to the economy, right? enslaved people were on the money in some parts of the south. so the business of slave-trading became a set of economic relationships that were connected to cotton production. and so this set of relationships reached far beyond the u.s. south. an example of this is the consolidated association of planners of louisiana. the capl.
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the capl was organized in 1827 and it was a bank. it linked cotton planters, english investors and louisiana government. so what we're seeing here is basically a sketch of how this organization worked. investors in england bought bonds from the capl. the capl would loan money to slave owners in louisiana and slave owners would put up land and enslaved people as collateral, right? if they failed, they might have to surrender a number of enslaved people to the bank. slave owners would use the cash they got from the capl to live their daily lives, right? they would use it to buy land and slaves, to buy cotton seed, to buy a fancy velvet coat if that's what they wanted to do.
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it was a bank. they could do whatever they wanted with this money. repaying these loans -- when slave owners repaid their loans, that made dividends for english investors. basically you're getting people connected across the atlantic ocean and connected in the project of making profit off of enslaved people and the production of cotton. the most important development or innovation of the capl is this, right, louisiana tax revenue would protect investors in case of an emergency. if there was bad weather, if the price of cotton collapsed, if for some reason a large collection of slave owners were unable to repay their loans, the capl got the government of louisiana to back them. so if there was a crash, louisiana tax dollars would be
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used to repay english investors. so this is like a state guarantee of the risk of investment in cotton. governments and investors on both sides of the atlantic ocean were getting deeply involved in the industry of cotton production. so the capl reflects -- it illustrates the extent of national and international investment in american slavey. cotton became the most important export product of the united states in the early 1800s. and slave owners were using financial power and they were using government power to enhance their wealth. i use the term national, it's also international. i use the term national. but one of the interesting phenomena connected to the
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cotton industry are the ways that it brought together the north and the south. so cotton was the fuel for industry in the northern united states. new england factors produced large amounts of cotton clothing for american people and a number of the american people for him they produced cotton clothing were enslaved people. and so this photo was showing some of the clothing that enslaved people might have been wearing. i think likely these clothes are made out of cotton, right? and there's this interesting phenomenon of what's called negro cloth. cotton was grown in the south and it was woven into a cheap and rough and ideally durable kind of fabric for clothing that would then be sold back to slave owners in the south, right? so enslaved people were wearing the fruits of their labor, wearing this rough woven cotton clothing that is designed to
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sustain them as they work to cultivate more cotton. so this is part of the story of power in american slaved societies. slave owners had massive power on their plantations. they had extensive power beyond their plantations because they controlled so much wealth and because they had government support for their efforts to get rich by exploiting enslaved labor. so the institution of slavery is growing and moving and expanding and becoming increasingly embedded in the nation's economy. i want to talk through now some of the ways that enslaved people would have experienced this as humans. what was it like to live through these changes. in 1835, there was a family of north carolina slave owners who decided to pack up and move a number of their family members and the people that they owned,
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a number of their enslaved people to alabama. during the trip, one of the women, one of the slave-owning women who was named sarah sparkman asked the enslaved people -- she asked them if they wanted to send messages back to family, messages back to their friends in north carolina. sparkman wrote to describe what she was doing here, she said, the servants request me to send many messages to all their friends and relations. they say it's the very words they want to say to them. so what you're looking at here is a message that a guy name arthur hawley wanted to send to his wife amy, right? and there are a couple of things that you can see here on a basic level, right? he's letting her know that they're doing well. he's saying he's glad he has the chance to talk to her, to hear from her. he misses her and he sends his
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love. we can imagine that these are regular things that people would convey to a family member of whom they were separated. there are a couple of things i want to highlight here as well. when you read that r this broad can see how important family and friendship were to this man. there was this desire, need to believe that in the near future, they will be reconnected. author hawley had a wife and children and he had friends back home. and i think this is key, right? i was glad to hear from our home. he had a place that he identified as his home. enslaved people made connections. they built communities. they established families. and so one of the obviously things you see here is this family is fragile. his wife is being separated from her children.
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but these communities, these connections were no less valuable to the people who made them because they were fragile. it's two parts of the reality of what's happening here in slavery. also he writes that he's sorry to hear that his master is sick. first, he might be saying that -- he might be saying this because he's dictating -- he's reading this messages to sarah sparkman and he knows that the slave owner would want to believe or want to imagine that arthur is actually concerned about slave owner's health, right? maybe he's saying this because he thinks that's what she wants to hear. another way to read this is that hawley was concerned about his owner's healthy. a slave owner who was sick, was a slave own who are might done. when slave people were sold or
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inherited or given away and they were given away in ways that split up the communities that enslaved people had built. so the health of a slave owner could be really, really important for someone like this writer. the health of a slave owner could be important for the possibility that author hawley might be able to stay in touch with his wife and friends in north carolina. so thousands of people like this man were moved in pursuit of a cotton crop. the fact that people were treated as property had profound effects on their lives. i will reiterate that since this is the topic of your second essay. the fact that people were treated as property had profound effects on their lives. historians estimate that the domestic slave trade broke up one-third of enslaved people's marriages in the upper south. again, the upper south, north carolina, maryland, virginia. it's likely that sale and forced
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movement separated about half of all enslaved children from at least one of their parents. so the economy of slavery had dangerous results for black families, for black communities. as all of this proceeded, enslaved people organized and strategy jazz strategized. their connections to one another were critical for the kinds of power they were able to use. one way we can understand the importance of these kinds of connections is through the practice of truancy . truancy describes the practice of people running away from a farm and staying away from a few nights, maybe they would stay away for a week or two.
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but the distinction between truancy and just running away -- i shouldn't say just running away. the distinction is that enslaved people who were described as truant were not necessarily intending to leave the south. so there's a woman named sally smith who described some of her experiences with this. smith was interviewed in the late 1800s after the end of slavey, after having survived emancipation, and smith talked to an interviewer about her life in louisiana as a slave. smith said that at one point she had a quota. she had to pick 150 pounds of cotton each day. if she didn't meet that quota, she would be whipped. so one night sally smith decided that she was going to try to avoid the hassle, right, avoid
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the possible punishment, avoid the hardship of labor of picking cotton and so sally smith went and hid in the woods. she described basically like this perpetual practice that developed. she said sometimes i would go so far off from the plantation, i could not hear the cows or roosters. so she's really getting away. she's out. she's not in a space where the plantation is really nearby. and so smith would hide out for as long as she could. but sometimes she had to come back when she needed food. and so she talked about this one night, right, she went back to the quarter, the place where enslaved people lived. she knocked on a lady's door and asked for some food. the lady says, if you want, you can bake you a corn cake. sally smith is starting to feed
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herself and just as she's about to make her meal, the overseer comes in and catches her. so there are a couple of important things you can see about truancy in this piece of smith's interview. one of them is that truancy was fostered by african-american communities. smith was trying to use her connections to other enslaved people to help her stay away from forced labor. she's literally not away from the plantation, but she is avoiding the work of picking cotton, right? she comes back to try to get food. i think it's important that sally smith asks for help and this woman says, i don't have exactly what you want. but here is how i can help you, right? you can bake a corn cake. this woman is trying to offer help in whatever way she can. so truancy was possible because
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of african-american communities. connections between people. connections among enslaved people made it possible for individuals like sally smith to escape their owner's grasp for a few nights, for a few weeks at a time. so smith ran away but of course in this moment she didn't really get away. in this case, she got caught. and every time smith ran away, she was punished. and the punishment was a similarly horrific experience. so the overseer here catches sally smith and then smith -- sorry, smith can tell that she's update. the oversee has a barrel and what he does is take a bucket of nails and hammer those -- from
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the inside to the out. the nail heads are wrapped around in this barrel. he puts her in the barrel and rolls her around. essentially sally smith was beaten up by a barrel full of nail heads. another interesting piece is once she's out, she's sore, bruised all over, and there's nice old lady who looks out for her. a poor old woman greased her and helped her get over her bruises so she would be able to go back to work as she was required. you can see community dimensions of what's happening here. but it's important to recognize that this punishment was a horrific experience, right? and so i want to talk about this particular punishment because i think truancy can feel like a really odd act. why go away if you're not going
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to get away? what does it matter if sally smith leaves the plantation but she gets caught and she gets punished in this horrific way, right? it can feel like a thing that's not all that meaningful if we think about it in those terms. the interviewer is thinking about this as well, right? after sally smith tells the interviewer about this punishment, rogers asks, i suppose that was an end to your stays in the woods. but sally smith says, no, i did not stay more than a month before i ran away again. i tell you, i could not stay there. so there were some important reasons why enslaved people went truant, right? sally smith dealt with this brutal punishment and decided again and again she would continue to try to leave. people like sally smith -- one of the reasons why people might
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pursue truant si, one way to think about this is geography. sally smith is in louisiana. if she wants to get to pennsylvania or new york where abolition laws are taking effect, right, that's a really long way to go. she has to run through a lot of slavery to find a potential life in freedom, right? if sally smith stayed close to the plantation, like she did, in this case, if she stayed close, she could borrow food, come back and try to get things from neighbors. if she left and ran through alabama and mississippi and tried to find her way to the north, she lost that potential support system. so one of the reasons truancy happened and we'll talk more about this in the weeks to come, one of the reasons truancy happened is because running away from a plantation, escaping slavey, was incredibly
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difficult. also another way to think about how truancy happened is that enslaved people understood that running away from a plantation often meant leaving behind family and friends. so as much as enslaved people hated their bondage, they weren't always ready to abandon the place they might have seen as home. so think back to arthur hawley, right, he is -- he seems to be sad to be leaving the place that he feels is his home in north carolina. and part of that is because he's leaving his wife. part of that might be because he's leaving his friends. part of that is because he's got a familiar place, even if that familiar place is a plantation where he's held as a place. it is the place that he knows. and so running away from slavey was a decision that would separate enslaved people from a
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lot of what they understood, a lot of what they knew and a lot of what they appreciated about their lives, right, family, friends, community. but i also want to encourage you guys to think about truancy as an act, as a phenomenon that was really tremendously meaningful, both to enslaved people and slave owners. so there are important differences between truancy and escape, right? truancy and flight. but for enslaved people, truancy could feel liberating. so think about the way that we talked about the possibilities for freedoms in slavey for gabriel, right? sally smith is experiencing similar kinds of moments or flashes of freedom. smith got punished when she got caught. but while she was in the woods,
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she spent a few days not picking cotton. not having her pickings weighed, not being whipped. not being watched over very carefully to see whether she was doing the work that she was being compelled to do, right? so sally smith got a few days off of work on the most basic level. sally smith also spent a few days living for herself. she writes about -- she talks in this interview about bugs and snakes and all kinds of scary outdoor stuff that she's dealing with. she's sleeping in the woods. she's not camping. but even with all of that, she's saying that this is something that she came to enjoy, right? she came to appreciate the time she spent out in the woods on her own. she was living outside of the oversight and the violence of her plantation. so truancy on one level is important because it helps us to see some of the strategies
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enslaved people use to claim power over their own lives. sally smith went to the woods because it made her feel good. truancy also points to how powerful enslaved people's actions could be in relation to the larger system of slavey. let's think about this. in the eyes of slave owners, we might think about slavery -- let's make sure this is nice and solid. in the eyes of slave owners, slavey was a fence. it was a bound space, right? and the idea for slave owners was that they could put a person in this space and compel them to do particular things, right? you will go to this place and do this particular work for this long, right?
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six days a week, at more intensity at particular times a year. slave owners' idea of slavery was that it was a fence that dictated where and how enslaved people lived their lives. every time an enslaved person did something they weren't supposed to do, every time an enslaved person went somewhere they weren't supposed to be, they poked a little hole in that fence. so when sally smith runs to the woods, she's poking a hole. when she's punished and runs again, maybe she's poking an even bigger hole. acts like truancy challenged the idea that slave owners had absolute control over slaves. again, what's important here is that this is slave owners' idea of slavery. let me just -- this is how
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people who owned slaved wanted to imagine slavey. and the reality was it was poked through, shot used to live lives in the ways that they wanted to. so sally smith's truancy was a threat to her owner's belief that he controlled the people he owned. and there are all sorts of ways people could seek power in their lives. sometimes they would break tools. sometimes they would destroy crops. sometimes they would just work a little slower. they might take breaks. they might plot. sometimes people like nat turner would rise up. we'll talk to him in the weeks to come. sometimes gabriel would plot a conspiracy. sometimes a group of people would come together, share a particular cultural practice and
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try to escape to freedom in florida. every day enslaved people did things that were different from what their owners wanted them to do. one of the most frequent things they could try to do -- one of the most frequent things they did was try to control the pace of their work. some of the songs they would sing could be used to regulate or influence the pace of labor on a plantation. i want to play a little piece of one of these songs that will allow us to think about this a little bit. ♪ you turn around dig a hole in the ground ♪ ♪ hole ♪ hole ♪ you turn around dig a hole in the ground ♪
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♪ hole ♪ say emma you from the country ♪ ♪ hole ♪ you turn around dig a hole in the ground ♪ ♪ hole ♪ emma help me to pull these weeds ♪ ♪ hole >> everyone appreciates music generally, right? can understand that songs that might be intended for one place can be enjoyed in other places, right? this is a song that historians understand is a work song. that's how you're hearing it sung there. the lyrics are suggesting this is the work we're doing and maybe enjoy that. the song doesn't have to be confined to the cotton fields. it might be sung at a home. it might be sung at a party. i might be sung like that --
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♪ hole it might be august summer in alabama. it's miserable out there. people are out there working and they're trying to make sure nobody looks bad and they're singing slowly. ♪ hole dig my hole we can think about other ways we can understand the connection between labor and politics and african american communities. the song is important because it's a cultural development shaped by the work of slavery. it was a cultural development that allowed enslaved people to shape the work they were doing.
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so the song was a way they tried to shape some of the terms of their labor. this is just one example of one of the tools that enslaved people might use in pursuit of some control over their lives. so the institution of slavery was a constant struggle between slave owners trying to extract as much labor as possible from enslaved people and enslaved people looking for and finding ways individually and collectively, ways they could control their own lives. so, if we look back at solomon northrop's writing we can see this. the ashes flying from day
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tonight, all day long. the prevalence of whipping was a way for slave owners to take control. they used the whip because they understood that they needed to force enslaved people to do the things they wanted them to do. before we wrap up, i want to talk about one more piece of solomon northrop's narrative. after he describes the violence of the plantation and writes about the hardship of being forced to learn how to pick cotton, he leaves readers with a stunning observation. he writes there are few sights more pleasing to the eye than a cotton field when it's in bloom. it's like an immaculate spans of light and new fallen snow. it's compelling to me that solomon northrop could reflect on the beauty of this landscape at the same time that he's thinking about the horrific circumstances that shaped it, right?
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the cotton crop that he describes as beautiful was violently extracted from enslaved people forced to work. what solomon suggests here is it's critical to think about the conditions that produced cotton and the crop that it became, right? think about the horror and the beauty that are embodied on a plantation, right? in same way i think it's important to think in complex terms about the wealth and power of the united states in relation to the institution of slavery. the u.s. became a wealthy nation and a global economic power in large part because of brutal violence perpetrated against people like this, used to forced enslaved people to produce cotton. the labor of producing cotton and the violence used to get
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that labor never made enslaved people feel less than human. they were always negotiating and struggling for control over their lives even as slave owners tried to use them as tools to generate wealth for themselves. so, i want to wrap up there. i want to turn to our big questions and make sure that we're all on the same page. so broadly a couple things we want to think through here that we thought through today. how did labor shape the lives of enslaved people in the u.s. south? how can we understand the power struggles between enslaved people and slave owners? what were some of the tools used in these struggles? what do we know? yeah? >> with the growth of cotton in the deep south especially we saw a lot of families get broken up.
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you said that one third of marriages were broken up. obviously that could be pretty traumatizing for a family and especially with the kids that were separated from their families. a lot of just, i guess, tough times for people in the -- during the growth of cotton. >> yeah. the demands of slave owners and the power of slave owners to move people around broke families, broke communities among enslaved people. other thoughts here? what do we know? >> labor in a sense developed communities and culture for them to be able to, like, not only cope with, but like create some power about how they saw themselves in relation to their environment and, like, each other. >> i like this. community is really critical for enslaved people. it's not just a way for people to cope, right?
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it's not just a way for people to deal with slavery, but to strategize, to develop tools and tactics to run away for a little while, right? that would enable them to feel some kind of power over their lives. other thoughts on power here and its manifestations? what are some of the things that slave owners did that empowered them? what were some of the things that slave owners did that empowered them? john? >> you mentioned they would carry a whip and punish slaves that would get out of hand or try to run away. not only to punish them, but to show an example to other slaves so they would be less likely to do what they did. >> violence was critical here. it was important to enforce this
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fence. the tools of wealth, the tools of political power, the tools of the law in a way that slave owners tried to bring in the state to ensure their powers. what you guys have got at here is the reality that, again, slavery was a constant struggle between slave owners and enslaved people. they struggled, they wrestled every day over control of an enslaved person's body and time. we'll see in the weeks to come some of how that struggle developed and some of the other tools and techniques and really some more interesting and vivid stories about how that struggle played out. cool? all right. that's what i have for today. i'll see you guys next week.
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wecht nights this month we're featuring american history tv programs as a preview of what's available every weekend on c-span 3. tonight we visit georgetown university for a class on the progressive era with professor kathryn cohen and explains how politician and reform groups in the 20th century attempted to improve social and economic conditions through trust busting, interstate regulation and prohibition. we also hear about the policies and campaigns of theodore roosevelt, the period's most dominant political figure. watch tonight, beginning at 8:00 eastern. enjoy american history tv, this week and every weekend, on c-span 3. >> american history tv on c-span 3, exploring the people and
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events that tell the american story every weekend. coming up this labor day weekend, saturday at 6:00 p.m. eastern on the civil war, historians discuss how we remember the civil war and whether to remove or contextualize confederate monuments, sunday at 6:00 p.m. eastern on american artifacts, we'll preview photos of american indians collection which includes more than half a million images. at 8:00 p.m. on the presidency, a look at presidential retreats including abraham lincoln's summer cottage, herbert hoover's fishing camp, stories of the kennedys, clintons and obamas and monday at 8:00 p.m. eastern, august marks the 75th anniversary of the bombings of hiroshima and nagasaki. american history tv and washington journal look back to the events with author ian toll and president truman's grandson. exploring the american story,
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watch american history tv this labor day weekend on c-span 3. you're watching american history tv. every weekend on c-span 3 >> we continue with lectures in history on c-span 3 with an emory university history professor teaching a class about the california gold rush of the mid 1800s and how people traveled to california, the physical geography of the area and evolving technology used to mine gold. >> good morning everybody. the topic of our lecture is the history of the gold rush and i will talk mainly about california in the years following 1848. but gold played a very, very important role in american history. think back to the conquistadors, one of the things they were fascinating about was the quest for gold. an unquenchable desire for precious metals, gold above all,


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